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November 2017

eTorch

How the 'Lost Battalion' was saved

Lost Battalion
Whenever the 100th/442nd comes up, one of the first things talked about is their courageous actions during "the Rescue of the Lost Battalion."

It is considered one of the more notable battles not just during World War II, but all of American military history. Oct. 30 of this year marks the 73rd anniversary of the day that the Nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team made contact with the stranded "Lost Battalion," the 141st Infantry Regiment.

In the fall of 1944, the 141st Infantry Regiment (the "1st Texas Battalion") and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (with the 100th Infantry Battalion) were parts of the 36th Division. The 141st was ordered to clear out a forest in the Vosges Mountains in France near the German border. During their mission, however, they became stranded behind enemy lines.

During that time, the 442nd was taking a well-deserved rest as they had just recently liberated the French towns of Bruyères and Biffontaine. Major General John Dahlquist, commander of the 36th Division, ordered the fatigued 442nd to fight through German forces and rescue the surrounded and stranded troops of the 141st.

The men of the "Texas Battalion" were in a very precarious situation. They were surrounded by enemies in a rough forest terrain. Rumors even swirled that Adolf Hitler himself heard of a group of trapped American soldiers; he supposedly sent reinforcements to ensure that they would never be rescued. Ammunition and supplies ran low while their casualties only grew. Attempts to send supplies and food by parachute and artillery were not successful. For six days, from Oct. 23 to 29, the men of the 141st faced isolation and starvation, in addition to raids by German soldiers.

For the Nisei in the 100th/442nd, the conditions weren't much better. They made a slow advance through the forest that was full of mines and entrenched German forces. It seemed as though each inch, much less a mile, cost the Nisei dearly. On top of the dangers of rounds, mines and the impact of artillery shells, the troops in the forest were very susceptible to wounds from "tree bursts." Many of the Nisei veterans revealed in their recollections that German artillery would often target the trees. The impact from the artillery shells hitting the trees would create shrapnel that would rain down on the men. Even foxholes weren't completely safe. The Nisei seemed to only make headway through heroic, but often costly charges through ridges and hills. The number of casualties seemed to only grow rapidly.

On Oct. 30, after six days of fighting, a group of soldiers from the 442nd were able to break through German lines and reach the "Lost Battalion." Matsuji "Mutt" Sakumoto from I Company was the first Nisei soldier who made contact with the men from the 141st. According to both Sakumoto and men from the 141st who he encountered, the first thing he did upon seeing the freshly rescued men was to offer them cigarettes.

For the men of the 141st Infantry Regiment, their rescue had come. But it did not come without great cost. To rescue 211 men from the 141st, the 100th/442nd suffered casualties that are estimated to be two or three times that number just for that initial rescue.

The men of the 100th/442nd would press forward after rescuing the men from the 141st, but that would not be their last interaction with the men of the 141st or the state of Texas. In 1962, Texas Governor John Connally made the men of the 100th/442nd "honorary Texans" for their sacrifice and heroism during the Rescue of the Lost Battalion. Numerous reunions also took place during the following decades as well.

The legacy of the Rescue of the Lost Battalion goes hand in hand with the legacy of the Nisei veterans. Three men received Medals of Honor for actions performed during this battle. It serves as an ideal example of courage, sacrifice and valor. They pressed forward against the worst odds while facing constant danger and adversity. They fought the enemy abroad in a dark, foggy forest while still worrying about their families back home.


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